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The Tory Earl, the $10,000 parliamentary tours and the outraged Lords and MSPs

A Tory peer, whose place in the House of Lords was secured after he inherited a title that goes back to the Middle Ages, is facing a possible cash-for-tours investigation.

Malcolm Sinclair, otherwise known as the 20th Earl of Caithness, is under fire after he was advertised as the host for a $10,980 (£7,588) UK trip that included tours of Westminster and Holyrood.

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LibDem MSP Jamie Stone was wrongly named as the chaperone for the Edinburgh leg of the jaunt, while the Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Hayman, is said to be “upset” that she was also listed as a participant.

In addition, the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, was mentioned among luminaries who visitors would have lunch with.

R.Crusoe and Son, a Chicago-based luxury travel firm, recently advertised a Scottish “castle-hopping” holiday tailored for rich Americans who yearn for a slice of the Old Country.

The 11-day trip, which was supposed to start earlier this month but was cancelled due to lack of demand, was to be fronted by the peer who was a Tory minister in the department that introduced the poll tax.

According to the Crusoe website, customers were to gather in London for a “private tour” of Westminster with the Earl of Caithness, who promised to “introduce us to several colleagues over lunch” – including the Leader and the Speaker of the House of Lords.

The Westminster tour would also have involved a “private, before-hours tour” of the recently renovated Churchill Museum and War Rooms. The lucky travellers were then to venture north, for a “visit to the Scottish Parliament accompanied by the Member who represents Caithness and Sutherland”, a reference to LibDem MSP Jamie Stone.

The holiday was then to include trips to various properties linked to the Earl and his family.

Those paying the $10,980 fee were pencilled in for a visit to Scone Palace for “morning coffee” with Lady Stormont, described as the Earl’s daughter-in-law and “overseer of the residence”.

This was to be followed by a relaxing trip to Ackergill Tower, described as Sinclair’s “15th-century home away from home”, a pad where guests would have dinner with LibDem MP Viscount Thurso.

The aristocratic MP was billed on the US literature as “the driving force behind northern Scotland’s push for renewable energy”. Customers were then promised a tour of Dunbeath Castle, named as one of the peer’s “ancestral homes”, before winding up with a visit to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe near Wick, where the Earl “spends much of his time”.

The proposed tour raises issues about companies using parliamentarians to offer guided tours for commercial purposes, while also posing questions about whether the Earl would have pocketed cash for the package holiday.

In 2005, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards criticised former Tory MP Jonathan Sayeed after a company he partly owned charged individuals for guided tours of Westminster.

Lords’ rules also state: “Tickets for Central Tours Office tours may not be auctioned or sold by Members. Members may raise money for charity by offering private tours of the Palace, but not for any other cause.”

Rhoda Grant, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said she would make a formal complaint about the Earl of Caithness.

She said: “I am writing to the House of Lords standards authorities because this Tory peer seems willing to turn the seat of government into a lucrative tourist destination.

“If he is benefiting personally from this arrangement, this is just old-fashioned sleaze, and in any case [this] is an abuse of his position.”

After reading the material on the Crusoe website, a spokesman for the House of Lords said: “You are not allowed to profit from tours. The Lord Speaker is quite upset that her name has been used in this way.”

A spokesman for the Leader of the Lords said: “Lord Strathclyde has had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and would consider it inappropriate to charge payment to arrange meetings with any member.”

LibDem MSP Jamie Stone said he was shocked to be named as a tour guide for the Earl’s trip: “He’s not been in touch with me at all. I have had no conversations with him. I do tours for groups such as schools, but not companies.”

The row is the latest blow to a hereditary peer whose public and private lives have often attracted controversy.

Although the Earl held many posts in the last Tory administration, he quit the government after his first wife Diana committed suicide in 1994.

She shot herself as the Earl and their daughter played cards in the drawing room in their Oxfordshire home. Sinclair later remarried but filed for divorced within a year.

A newspaper report claimed that his second wife’s failure to attend their own wedding reception contributed to the relationship’s breakdown.

The Earl confirmed that the parliamentary tour had been cancelled but refused to answer further questions about the trip.

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